An important next step in our church vitality journey is beginning at the Diocese of California with the launch of be::community the online site housing the growing collection of church vitality webinars. Mary Vargas, a member of the Diocesan Standing Committee, introduced the new offering in a recent posting on the Diocesan newsletter DioBytes:
Realigning Mission through Ministry in Community: Creating the Ministry Map on Vitality
see::community – be::community
is a process designed to engage our people at a new level in exploring which ministries connect them to their neighborhoods (or any place outside church walls), which ministries serve the church, and which ideas are coming to life as emerging ministries — all serving the mission of “transforming souls.” We believe it is through ministry that we are the most effective “evangelists,” creating a direct connection between community, vitality, and growth.
Check it out for yourself.
- Church Metrics = Young Clergy Brain Drain #UMCYCI – How metrics affect church outreach, campus ministry, and young clergy (hackingchristianity.net)
- Mobile ministry: Churches adopting tablets, smartphones (lenovo.com)
- The Evolution of a Youth Minister | Advice from a Youth Ministry Veteran (youthmin.org)
- Ferncliff is Transformational (ferncliffcamp.com)
- How To Find Great Youth Ministry Blogs (youthmin.org)
- Re-evangelizing America with changes in our ministry roles (teddyray.com)
The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Pleasant Hill, Our Savior Lutheran Church and the Diocese of California announced they will launch an alternative, monthly evening service at Pyramid Alehouse in Walnut Creek. The service will be called 731 because it will begin promptly at 7:31 pm each time.
December 18th and January 29th @ 7:31pm, Pyramid Alehouse Downtown Walnut Creek
The new service uses provocative questions, popular music guest speakers, video and beer & food to help people 35 and younger combine the Christian tradition with their own individual experiences of God and the world. Designed not to be the “churchy stuff you grew up with” this alternative service seeks to be relevant in the lives of this age group and build community in new ways.
- Calling All Church Geeks (churchgrowthprogram.com)
- Growing the Church is about Community (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
- Disciples in the Dougherty Valley (churchgrowthprogram.com)
- Does Growth = Evangelism? (churchgrowthprogram.com)
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20
In August 2011, Bishop Marc Andrus came to the Executive Council and asked the lay leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of California to take up the challenge of church vitality and find ways to get the church growing again. For the past four months the Executive Council’s lay-driven Church Growth Program has shined bright light on the issues and implications of the long slow decline in church membership, average Sunday attendance and pledging.
In plain blunt terms, at the current average rate of decline of -3.3% per year, the Episcopal Diocese of California is one-half the size it was in 2000. Project that same average decline rate forward ten years to 2022 and the Diocese of California would be half the size it is in 2011 with fewer than 5,000 pledge units.
Embrace the diversity of our Diocese and welcome all who love God and seek Christ in their lives as part of our faith community through prayer, worship and service to others.
Give the people what they want from the church? We want to see the church as our family of faith not a place we go just on Sunday, a safe place where we are loved for who we are and fed spiritual food to sustain us:
- Help me discover Jesus in my life and support me on my personal faith journey.
- Help me give my kids a good faith foundation that will guide their lives.
- Help me be in community with other faithful who welcome me as I am.
- Give me options to pray, worship and serve others to be the Body of Christ.
- Be there for me in my times of pain, hurt and need to comfort me, love me, stand up for me and stand by me when I need it most.
Connect and empower the people to be the Body of Christ across the Diocese by making use of social media and technology to make it easy for us to be in community, to collaborate and share, to work together on mission and ministry programs, to find new ways to serve and where the church is our gate opener not our gate keeper.
Love us and support us on our faith journey. The church is more than its ritual; it is our pathway to find Jesus in our lives. What people are saying they want the church to do is offer a menu of the bread of life and cup of salvation in scores of ways, in hundreds of places, with thousands of others who also need Jesus in their lives. To get the church growing again we can’t rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to prayer, worship or service and still be present in people’s lives when they need Jesus most.
The lesson from the church growth program is that the path to growth is connecting with people one-on-one, inviting them to the table and offering bread and wine that satisfies the soul in ways that fit their lives, their labors, their needs.
Finding new ways to do church does not mean abandoning our faith values it means finding new ways to share them in the language of the people. What we’re learning is there is a hunger for traditional values of prayer, worship, service and community but we want it available in new ways.
Speaking the language of the people also means using the technologies of the people to help us satisfy our hunger to be in community and have Jesus in our midst by connecting and empowering the people to be the Body of Christ that still celebrates traditional values but in new ways.
CHURCH2GO: Calling the Church Geek Faithful to Service
On December 10th 9am to noon at Holy Innocents San Francisco, the Church Growth Program membership growth team will hold a workshop called CHURCH2GO exploring how the church can make better use of technology to help us be in community, empower us to collaborate and share our talents and time productively, and discover new ways to serve others. We welcome your ideas and participation.
No registration is needed! Come as you are.
We especially are eager to have people knowledgeable in easy to use, hosted online
- social networking and social media software to build community,
- collaboration software for use in area ministry programs
- database tools to search ministry best practices unstructured data
- talent software tools to match skills with service needs
- crm software like Salesforce.com for stewardship
- online learning software for use in lay leadership training
- crowd-funding, crowd-sourcing tools for outreach and service projects
- smart phone apps applicable to church work.
- Growing the Church is about Community (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
- Does Growth = Evangelism? (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
- Disciples in the Dougherty Valley (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
- Visualize The Great Commission (churchgrowthprogram.com)
This is the Unbinding the Gospel program from www.gracenet.info presented by Rev. Ron Culmer at our October 15th Membership Growth Team workshop at St. Clare’s.
This is a program St. Clare’s will be using next year.
Read the testimony from Pastor Clint Cottrell:
We have really been struggling in Fort Myers with a decline in the economy, housing values that have dropped 40-60%, large numbers in our congregation losing jobs or losing income (from employment or fixed income), and from a decline in population (first time in the recorded history of Florida). At the church we have had to make targeted changes to ministries and programs, substantially cutting some (including staff) while increasing our outreach through a food pantry (feeding 25,000 people in the last 2 years). We have been blessed by the ability to do good in the food pantry, but we are struggling on many other levels, including an abysmally low involvement by adults in Bible study or Sunday School, often having less than 10 a week with a church that can worship 500 or more “in season.” That is the context.
A little over a year ago I read a book called Unbinding the Gospel by Martha Grace Reese where the author used hard evidence and research to support a return to the fundamentals of our faith…prayer, Bible study, small groups and evangelism (yep, the four letter word that uses ten letters!!!). I was so impressed that we talked with the author and began a simple journey.
Here is the chronology of what we did:
- First, the associate pastor and I prayed!
- We had 10 “key” leaders (yep, that I hand picked), read the book and meet over 6 weeks. The goal was to see if this is something that we needed to do. The response was an overwhelming YES! Important…we kept what we were doing largely a secret…yep, it was a secret…we wanted this to be surrounded by a mystery. This was in January-February.
- We then had the “formal” leaders of the church read the book and participate in the 6 week study. This included all of the staff, the elders, the deacons, the choir, the praise team and the Sunday School teachers. We did NOT have 100% attendance…some couldn’t come, some wouldn’t come (important nuance). We again asked the question, should we do this? Again, the answer was an overwhelming YES! This was in March-April.
- We developed a group to lead us through the process…a steering committee, if you will. We also joined a “coaching group” through Martha Grace Reese (and have paid a coach to help us…a very reasonable amount of money, $1,000 out of pocket). This group really began to meet about 4 months before the launch.
- We started a separate group that seriously prayed for us…using many shut-ins who otherwise are unconnected to the body.
- In August we began to “let the secret out of the bag” and started making announcements in church, putting out fliers on church doors, mentioning it in newsletters. etc.
- In late August I preached on Unbinding one Sunday then each week after just mentioned it in the sermon…quickly, but it got mentioned.
- On September 19th WE SHUT DOWN ALL ACTIVITIES IN THE CHURCH…PERIOD! No choir practice, no bell practice, no scheduled meetings (except for emergencies), etc. For 6 weeks we started a CHURCH WIDE SABBATH TO PRAY AND STUDY…using the book, Unbinding Your Heart (Unbinding the Gospel was designed mostly for the church leaders, Unbinding Your Heart was designed for the church as a whole).
(There were a few other minor steps in between, but this captures the bulk of what we did AND I need to stress, the workload leading up to this was quite simple…the biggest mistake that some folks tried to make was DOING TOO MUCH!!! This was quite simple!!!)
I TRULY expected that we would get NO MORE than 50-100 people involved (I thought THOSE numbers were high!!!). Based on the VERY low turn out to Bible studies and Sunday School, at the MOST I expected was 100. Of course, we hoped for more, but that was the expectation. We bought 160 books (“optimistically” hoping that 80% of our average worship attendance would participate). But hey, we can always send them back!
We ran out of books the day we “launched” the event. We ordered 20 more and ran out. At this stage, with our children also participating (we are using a specialized program that parallels what the adults are doing in Unbinding) we now have WELL OVER 200 people in Unbinding. Oddly enough, our visitor attendance has spiked. Granted, some of the folks are “snowbirds” returning for the winter, but we have had a SPIKE in guests! Where are they coming from???
Further…we have run out of room! Every room at the church is being used. We have run out of people to “facilitate” the small groups as we had to add small groups to accommodate all of the people. Even then, we had groups swell to 18 (we did NOT want this as that size of group is WAY too big, but we are making due with what we have).
Lastly, a FEW people have grumbled…oddly, they are the ones not participating OR are largely not supportive of what is happening. (Side note…some people were/are uncomfortable with what we are doing. I have seen a drop off of a few members that just are not wanting to come on board!!! Some have even stopped coming to church…I need to follow-up on them. Yet, I have also witnessed a life changing transformation begin in others that were on the periphery!!!)
On the other end, problems have all but disappeared! We still have challenges with money and buildings and the usual stuff, but the stress has truly disappeared. It has been the calmest 4 weeks (we are 4 weeks into the event) I have ever seen in ministry, while simultaneously the busiest at the church, being the people of God!!!
What have I/we done to make this happen? Nothing!!! Really!!! All we did was set it up, pray, and get out of the way. God is doing something truly remarkable. I have seen this only once or twice in my 51 years of life, and it is remarkable. How long will it last? Only God knows! What will happen next? Only God knows! We ARE praying and working to find ways to keep the momentum going once the 6 weeks is up, but for right now, God is doing something special.
Again, I must stress, this was nothing I did. It was simply praying and allowing God to do the work.
If you are looking to follow-up for your church, there are 4 books you want to read (VERY easy to read texts), in this order:
- Unbinding the Gospel
- Unbinding Your Church
- Unbinding Your Heart
- Unbinding Your Soul
Also, you can visit the Unbinding website at www.gracenet.info
If I can be of further help or service, just drop me a note or call.
May the peace of Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, be with you on this journey!
Pastor Clint Cottrell 239 – 481 – 3233
Cypress Lake Presbyterian Church Fort Myers Florida
Growing the church is about growing community—and being in communities that thrive on faith, and love and the joy of being the Body of Christ by doing His work in the vineyard we are given to tend.
It is Jesus calling us to live into our own Great Commission as disciples inviting others to join us.
To do God’s work we have to put aside some of the old ways of the church that divide us, separate us from our mission in the vineyard and remember that we are sisters and brothers of the body of Christ.
“Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
- Does Growth = Evangelism? (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
- Parable of the Wicked Tenants: What are the Lessons for the Church Growth Program? (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
Help me discover Jesus in my life and support me on my personal faith journey.
Help me give my kids a good faith foundation that will guide their lives.
Give me options to pray, worship and serve others on my terms, in my time available.
Help me be in community with others who share my faith and welcome me as I am.
Spare me from church politics and the hassles that get in the way of my faith journey.
These simple yet powerful messages are the hope of the church. They symbolize the deep spiritual faith of people who love God and seek Christ but often see church practices as out of touch and in the way of true community.
We did not just dream this stuff up in the Church Growth Program. There are many surveys and studies on why the church is in decline. The words are often evasive or designed not to offend but the messages are clear.
The younger we are the more turned off we have become by the old ways of doing church. The people of the church are ‘not like me’ you often hear it said. The people in church are judgmental and don’t want to hear anything different. I don’t feel welcome there.
Instead of becoming the Body of Christ are we turning into the Pharisees instead?
Think about the plaintive yearning of the messages above—think about what the people are telling us.
“Let me in!”
- The Parable of the Open Mic (churchgrowthprogram.com)
- 10/16/2011 Give to God What Is God’s (richbrownforewords.wordpress.com)
In our Congregational Vitality webinar on September 13, I asked you to consider making a continuing commitment to work together to develop growth strategies for the Episcopal Church in our diocese. This is not new work, but has been bubbling up since well before I arrived. From the diocesan profile that called for a new bishop in 2005, to our collective Beloved Community Visioning process, the people of this diocese have continuously placed a high value on congregational vitality, and your bishop and diocesan staff hold this as our central mission in the work we do everyday.
This Advent, your diocesan staff and I will provide new tools for teams from your congregations to continue this work in collaborative ways. It is my sincere hope that you will assemble your best and brightest to join us as we embark on this mutual learning beginning December 8.
I am writing now to ask you to take this next step with us. By clicking the link below, you will be taken to a web page to register your congregation’s team. These teams will be asked to join us monthly at locations around the diocese, either in person or online. The teams will be asked to do work between the meetings, providing case studies of vibrant ministries that they encounter in their own congregational settings. They will also be invited to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit, as we respond together to God’s call to mission.
Your diocesan staff is looking forward to this time of new collaboration and new growth.
Congregational Vitality Team commitment form
- Episcopal Realities: Getting Back to Growth (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
- Church Decline or Growth: Pick One! (churchgrowthprogram.com)
- Visualize The Great Commission (churchgrowthprogram.com)
- Census 2010 clues for Growing the Church (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
Jesus said, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “this is the heir; come let’s kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you ever read the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
Has become the cornerstone;
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is amazing in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it all.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parable, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46)
Have you ever noticed how of often the lessons appointed each Sunday has a message for you that you don’t realize until you are sitting there in the pews and it hits you between the eyes? This happens to me often and it happened again today when I least expected it. The gospel reading warns us to be faithful to God. OK, I’m doing my best to be faithful, what’s the problem?
As the homilist interprets the Gospel reading from Matthew I realize that the message is that God’s redeeming grace is enduring but that to receive it we must live the lives of redeemed people. That is—our weekly corporate worship is not designed so that we can just go through the motions of being part of the Body of Christ, we are expected to actually follow the way of Christ! YIKES! That means we can’t just coast we have to work for our share of the product of the vineyard, not be complacent but go out there and work the vineyard like you mean it! Right between my eyes, OK, Jesus I get it.
Is the church growth program Jesus’ call to us to respond to the long slow decline in church attendance, membership and pledging? Is Jesus telling not only the Episcopal Church but all the mainline religions that we are wicked slaves forgetting whose we are and taking advantage of an absentee vineyard owner? Otherwise why would we be so neglecting of the church to let it run out of gas and into the ditch?
Every major denomination has the same problem and is struggling to find the same answer—how do we keep the inheritance? The people in the pews are voting with their feet and the message is clear—we don’t feel the institutional church is meeting our needs nor helping us find Jesus in our lives so we are searching for new ways to ‘do church’ that will meet our hunger to be part of the body of Christ.
After twenty years of steady decline, something amazing happened in the Diocese of California. Up from the pews the faithful began to ask what are we going to do to get the church growing again? The Holy Spirit must have been cheering because in a relatively short period of weeks that questioning and prayer, confession and hope for renewal had worked its way from the pews to the Bishop of California.
When Bishop Marc came to the August meeting of the Executive Council he told us he felt it was time to place our faith in God’s call to the faithful and to ask the collective wisdom of the laity to go to work in the vineyard to get the church growing again. He was neither conditional nor tentative, he asked the Executive Council to take charge of this church growth program initiative and run with it.
We are a little more than one month into the church growth program and the Pharisees are after us. The church growth program empowers the laity to try new ways to do church. It invites us to question programs that don’t work as planned, that do not get desired results. It encourages us to take initiative on our own without waiting for permission. But change is hard in the church just as it is in other parts of our lives.
Church Growth Program causes trouble by asking hard questions. It gives us permission to challenge conventional thinking. That was apparent to me at the Contra Costa Deanery meeting as I described the upcoming workshops of the membership growth team. When I said the November meeting would discuss the issues of East Contra Costa County I got hit between the eyes by the concerns of several of the congregations in that area that the real agenda of the Diocese was to consolidate them into one bigger congregation, but that they felt the needs of the area were too diverse, the geographic too distributed and the communities of interest too different to work together. Really?
Change is threatening and so is the church growth program, just like the Pharisees felt threatened by the preaching of Jesus and the disciples. But if the church growth program is the laity’s attempt to be the Body of Christ and do the work we are called to do by the Great Commission, questioning is going to happen.
- Empower the Laity. The change envisioned in the church growth program shifts the responsibility for improving attendance, membership and pledging from the Diocesan staff and clergy to the laity.
- Set Measurable Results for Growth. The church growth program encourages a new focus of Diocesan congregational development to work on our best opportunities to grow the church rather than its current mission effectiveness focus on our least effective ones. We do a poor job of measuring results and facing realities that we can no longer afford to keep supporting programs, missions and congregations that are not sustainable.
- Encourage Collaborative Ministries. The church growth program embraces collaborative efforts to work with struggling congregations to try new ideas to help the congregation pursue its best opportunities to thrive without subsidies.
- Invest in Growth instead of Subsidizing Failure. The church growth program promises to shift the spending priorities of the Diocese from top down Diocesan programs to bottoms up support for congregational efforts to grow by matching the investment and time commitments congregations are willing to make in a mission or ministry program with matching support from the Diocese on a competitive basis across the Diocese.
I do not know what the right answer is for the East Contra Costa County area is. But I do know this, the Diocese of California has a big opportunity in the changing demographics and growth patterns emerging over the last ten years that are now being documented in the 2010 Census. The rapid growth and now stalled economy of East CoCo has given us a new diversity of multicultural richness layered into the underlying fabric of the community. The Episcopal missions and parishes in Contra Costa County working together are well positioned to respond to those needs with the help of the Diocese. But alone none of them is able to deal with the size, complexity and diversity of the need. Some congregations are thriving, others are struggling but few work together in any meaningful way to do the work of the church in this area.
Out of the Pews and Congregation Silos into the Vineyard
Our challenge is to bring together the missions and congregations serving the Contra Costa County deanery area to explore ways they can work together to do God’s work in this part of the vineyard and to define the Diocesan support needs to make it happen. The difference in the approach to this program with and without the church growth program makes this a perfect laboratory for experimentation with new ways to do church in this part of the vineyard.
The traditional congregational development and misson effectiveness approach is to wait for the Diocese to decide what to do. The church growth program approach turns that strategy on its head and calls upon the lay leaders of the area to come together, work together, develop a plan to ‘plant a vineyard, put a fence around it, dig a wine press and build a watchtower’ as Matthew described it in the parable—that is to develop a plan and invest in doing God’s work then tend it faithfully until the vines take root and bear fruit and offer it to God, the owner of all of our vineyards.
Do you see the power of this different approach?
The traditional approach to church growth through congregational development and mission effectiveness is to sit in the pews and wait for the Bishop, Diocesan Staff and clergy to tell us what to do. The truth of our church decline problem should be telling us —-this is not working!
Jesus is calling us to get up from the safety of our pew to work in the vineyard. Jesus wants us to work up a sweat by doing the work He gave us to do. The ‘build it and they will come’ approach to church planting has not worked for a long time. The buildings of the church are NOT the church. The church lives in the hearts of the faithful whose lives are touched and transformed by the unconditional love of Christ in our lives and across our community.
To grow the church we must not be afraid to throw open the doors —and our hearts to those who love God and seek Christ and be working in the vineyard where these new seekers and faithful live, work, struggle and pray. We are wicked tenants because we have failed to follow that call and church decline is part of “putting those wretches to a miserable death” and warning us that God will “lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time” if we don’t get up and get out of the pews and do some honest and holy work in the vineyard he has been calling us to do.
The challenge for the Church Growth Program will be to survive the action planning phase and speak to the hearts of the lay leaders across the congregations to roll up their sleeves and do God’s work in the vineyard. But the absentee owner promises to come for his produce. What will he want?
Jesus wants the vineyard to thrive and produce good fruit
He want the laborers in the vineyard to see the Kingdom as one of abundance not a zero sum game where when the landowner gets more the laborers in the vineyard get less.
God’s economy is NOT a zero sum game and neither is the church growth program. But it does require honestly facing up to the issues in getting the church growing again. It does call us to throw open the doors and welcome the faithful from many nationalities, many cultures and languages who love God and seek Christ. It does call us to stop doing things that no longer work, do not help the church grow or empower us to be the body of Christ.
The consequence of not facing the church growth issues is also clear—-by 2022 the Diocese of California will shrink to a point that it becomes largely irrelevant from the steady -3.3% decline each year in attendance, membership and pledge units from business as usual.
That is the lesson from the vineyard—be faithful to God, listen to Jesus call to us to make disciples of all nations, and to know that as we do that work in the vineyard, Jesus will be with us until the end of the ages.